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DOT&PF trying to get Thane avalanche cameras installed for winter

Cameras will monitor traffic through avalanche zone

Posted: October 29, 2012 - 9:41pm  |  Updated: October 30, 2012 - 12:02am

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is working to install two cameras along Thane Road for the purposes of monitoring traffic through its most active avalanche zone along the road before winter falls.

The paired cameras, which would be placed two-tenths of a mile apart, would be able to alert DOT&PF staff to potential emergency situations involving vehicles being caught in an avalanche, DOT&PF Communications Officer Jeremy Woodrow said Monday.

“If they were to see a vehicle enter but not exit, that would obviously be a red flag,” Woodrow said.

If a vehicle were driving through the avalanche zone when an avalanche struck and ended up buried, Woodrow said the footage would also give emergency responders “a more accurate idea of where to start digging.”

Though Woodrow said the DOT&PF has the cameras, it is not ready to install them right away. Part of the reason for that is that the department wants to install one of the cameras on about 170 square feet of land owned by the City and Borough of Juneau, near the Little Rock Dump.

The DOT&PF has requested that the CBJ donate a permanent easement, which would allow the state to use the land on which the DOT&PF seeks to install the camera by the Little Rock Dump.

The CBJ Assembly Lands Committee approved a motion Monday by Deputy Mayor Mary Becker to pass the request on to the full Assembly for consideration.

Lands and Resource Manager Heather Marlow said at that committee meeting that the Docks and Harbors board of directors, which has authority over the land in question, had already expressed its support. The Planning Commission will also weigh in, she added.

According to Woodrow, due to the unseasonably cold weather, the chances that the cameras will be installed this year are “probably about 50-50.”

“We’re shooting to install them this fall,” Woodrow said. “However, with the onset of this early winter we’re getting, the ground is freezing faster than we were anticipating.”

Maintenance Superintendent Greg Patz, the DOT&PF’s representative in the audience at the Lands Committee meeting Monday, said after leaving the meeting that he is not optimistic about the completion date.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get it done this year,” said Patz, who said the cameras will likely be put in next summer instead.

The original aim of the project, as described in an Oct. 5 letter from the DOT&PF to Marlow, was to install six cameras to monitor all three avalanche zones on Thane Road.

“The best coverage would be, you know, four or six (cameras),” Patz said Monday. “But due to funding and location issues, we’re working on just two right now.”

The pair of cameras the DOT&PF is seeking to install will cover Snowslide Creek.

“We looked at the area that’s the most active slide area,” said Patz. “And so we’re positioning cameras on either end of that avalanche zone.”

The project is federally funded as part of the Intelligent Transportation Systems program, according to Woodrow, and installation of both cameras — replete with camera pole, power source, panel and phone line — is expected to cost about $300,000.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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